Archive for the ‘Jonathan Power’ Category

Cambodia changes gear into reverse

By Jonathan Power

Cambodia is no longer going forward, it is slipping backwards, as it has many times before. Earlier this month the government asked the Supreme Court to dissolve the main opposition coalition. One opposition leader, Kem Sokha, was sent to prison last month and the other, Sam Rainsy, is in exile.

The English-language newspaper, The Cambodia Daily, has been closed and the relatively free radio stations leant on and a number closed. The decades-long prime minister, Hun Sen, talks about rebels in the capital, Phnom Penh, plotting to overthrow the government.

Good things still happen. The economic growth nearly touches 7% year after year. Land reform has worked. The health and education of the poor has markedly improved. In other countries, this might be a prelude to political liberalisation. But not in Cambodia. Hun Sen, who before has won many elections, some reasonably honest, some rigged, now fears defeat at the polls next year.

To understand why Cambodia is so we must go back 47 years before the genocidal movement, the Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot, took over.

In 1970 a pro-American military junta led by Lon Nol deposed King Sihanouk, who had succeeded in keeping his country out of the Vietnam War. Read the rest of this entry »

Would Trump use nuclear weapons?

By Jonathan Power

October 10th 2017

In the Cold War days, some of us used to say, “Better red than dead”- to rebuff those who believed in nuclear deterrence as a way of political life that gave them security. Now those of us who are frightened that Trump could start a nuclear war over Iran or North Korea should coin a new phrase. How about: “Better alive than going to the grave with Kim Jong-un”?

Admittedly that doesn’t have the same snappy ring, but you get my point?

At the UN recently, President Donald Trump (aka Fire and Fury) threatened to “totally” destroy North Korea if the US was forced to defend itself.

This past weekend Senator Bob Corker, the chair of the US Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee, and at one time an important backer of Trump, the candidate, said that Trump could set the nation “on the path to World War 3”.

I would surmise, even though I have no polling evidence, that an overwhelming majority of the world would not accept the use by the US of nuclear weapons in any circumstances, even if they believe in what I think is the false notion of “deterrence”. In Europe, I doubt if more than 5% do.

But in America, it is another matter. According to a survey carried out in the US and analysed at length in Harvard University’s “International Security” some 50% of American adults believe that their use would be justified, especially if it saved the lives of 20,000 American soldiers. (Which is less than the 38,000 US soldiers stationed in South Korea today).* Read the rest of this entry »

India up and then down

By Jonathan Power

October 2nd, 2017

Recent reports estimate that India’s annual economic growth rate is now down to 5.5%. The government of Narendra Modi which until recently seemed to be on a public opinion roll could fall off its log – but that depends on the Indian electorate ending its self-deceit.

Three years ago Modi at the helm of his Hindu nationalist party, the BJP, gave Congress a thumping defeat. Suave and persuasive on the podium, Modi rammed home a simple message – that in the state of Gujarat where he was the chief minister more had been achieved in a short space of time than anywhere else in India.

It was industrializing fast, building more roads, modernizing its ports and communications and helping the poor.

There was some element of truth in this and few doubt that Modi is an effective administrator who is strong on productivity and hard on corruption. Nevertheless, when it comes to the poor the record is by no means as good as he preached. Hunger in his state only fell slowly, no faster than the Indian average. Two-thirds of Indian children received vaccinations but only half in Gujarat. 33% of its children were underweight whilst the Indian overall rate was 30%.

Modi with his silken songs of achievement put the Congress Party in the shadow. Never mind that the Congress government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and party chairwoman Sonia Gandhi had reduced the number of poor by 135 million, the poor gravitated towards Modi.

Congress seemed unable to persuade the media – and this was true of the international media too – to give it a fair hearing on its successes. Read the rest of this entry »

Trump as war criminal?

By Jonathan Power

September 26th 2017

Out of the blue the war in Vietnam is in the news. Yet it is not the fiftieth anniversary of America’s defeat in Vietnam when North Vietnam caused it to flee. It’s only the forty second.

Part of this must be fearful parallels with the moral and strategic blindness of President Donald Trump who seems to believe in uttering his life and death rhetoric, akin to President Richard Nixon’s on Vietnam, he can frighten the enemy into submission – in his case North Korea.

Many people are worried that Trump is ready to fight America’s biggest war since Vietnam. As did Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s National Security Advisor, he appears to be considering the use of nuclear weapons.

The second reason for Vietnam-consciousness are the rave reviews that are being given to Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s 10 part documentary on the Vietnam War.

It is being mentioned all over the place.

To my mind one of the big questions is, is Trump ready to be branded a war criminal by present and future generations? Read the rest of this entry »

Cities built for man

By Jonathan Power

“What did these vain and presumptuous men intend? How did they expect to raise their lofty mass against God, when they had built it above all the mountains and clouds of the earth’s atmosphere?” This is St. Augustine writing about Babylon in his “City of God”. In more modern times Jonathan Raban has written in “Soft City”, “The city has always been an embodiment of hope and a source of festering guilt: A dream pursued, and found vain, wanting and destructive.”

St. Augustine wrote the “City of God” in a state of sorrowful contemplation. The city of man, he believed, ought to be a harmonious reflection of the City of God. In actuality it is vulgar, lazy and corrupt, a place so brutish that it lacks even the dignity of the satanic. St Augustine would surely write the same way if reincarnated in Atlanta, Johannesburg, Mumbai or Riyadh.

Johannesburg? Who can forget Alan Paton’s dark description of that city in his beautiful but painful novel, “Cry the Beloved Country”. The old, liveable, city got overtaken in the 1950s. “We shall live from day to day. And put more locks on our doors, and get a fine, fierce dog when the fine, fierce bitch next door has pups, and hold on to our handbags more tenaciously, and the beauty of the trees by night and the raptures of lovers under the stars, these things shall we forgo.

We shall forgo the coming home drunken through the midnight streets and the evening walk over the starlit veldt. We shall be careful, and knock this off our lives and that off our lives, and hedge ourselves about with safety and precaution.”

Johannesburg, it is true has its own peculiar burden, but which of us city dwellers would be brave enough to say this does not touch some primeval instinct we have that tells us this is the way our own city might go, if indeed it has not already gone, as many have the last 20 years. Read the rest of this entry »

Brexit: May versus Merkel

By Jonathan Power

September 19th 2017

“It’s not over until the fat lady ends her song”- so goes the adage, referring to the often overweight soprano who sings the last aria in Wagner’s opera, Gotterdammerung.

British prime minister, Theresa May, is not fat in a bodily sense, but she is fat-headed, convinced of her own righteousness over Brexit, although she herself voted Remain in the Brexit referendum and then changed her opinion so she could win enough votes from Brexit members of parliament to become prime minister.

Fortunately, for those who believe that the European Union is a force that welds together the former warring nations of Europe who precipitated World Wars 1 and 2 into a well-run economic and political union and thus has ensured that Europe has achieved its longest period of peace in 2000 years, the fat lady has just got going on her long aria.

Indeed, her voice is gaining timbre as it becomes clear that the Remainers still have a chance of defeating Ms May and her inward looking, self-destructive, supporters who would have had Winston Churchill on their backs if he were still alive – he was a great believer in a unified Europe.

Fortunately for Europe, as Ms May goes backwards Chancellor Angela Merkel goes forward. Read the rest of this entry »

Unwinding the Iran nuclear deal

By Jonathan Power

September 5th 2017

The big mistake, apparently about to be made by President Trump, in undoing the nuclear agreement made by President Barack Obama with Iran is not just that he intends to go backwards, it is that he doesn’t intend to go forwards. (To be fair, neither did Obama.)

What the Iranians negotiated about was not so much the “bomb” – to be or not to be – but about their pride and their position in the world and their right to become a thriving economic and political power inured from sanctions or military threats. (Sanctions were imposed before the nuclear issue came to the fore.)

The nuclear program was first and foremost about creating leverage so that Iran could regain the sort of respect that the offspring of the Persian Empire once was given. Second, it was about making sure that Iran is not found short when its oil reserves start to shrink. (Iran also has heavily invested in solar energy.)

For Iran, negotiations were a suggestive game of hide and seek, played in front of all-angled, reflecting mirrors. They were not about actually building a bomb or, as we used to say in Pakistan’s pre-bomb days, of being “a screwdriver away from completing a bomb”.

I don’t actually believe that Iran ever had the intention of building a nuclear bomb. But it was not unhappy that the West thought it was. It did want to frighten the West. It did want to forestall what it believes is the Americans’ true ambition – to bring about “regime change”.

Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, has spoken a number of times about how nuclear weapons go against the principles of Islam. Islam is a language of love and brotherhood, not of a nuclear holocaust. I believe him, not out of naivety, but because I know Iran is a deeply religious society and that the ayatollahs take Islamic teaching earnestly. Children are brought up to take values seriously, to love not hate, and to take care of the poor and widowed. War is a last resort. Reading the Koran, nuclear weapons could never be justified.

Iran doesn’t go easily to war. Saddam Hussein inflicted war on Iran for no good reason, other than to demonstrate the muscle of a dictator. Iran had never tried to build up a deterrent against Iraq. (The US and the UK supported Saddam and provided him with weapons.) Read the rest of this entry »

Get out of Afghanistan

By Jonathan Power

August 29, 2017

It’s the most repeated maxim in all the reporting on Afghanistan: “The Americans have the watches, the Taliban have the time”.

Dead right! This is America’s longest war ever, 16 years and counting. President Donald Trump, admitting he was reversing his campaign call for pulling out, has now decided to stay in, sending to Afghanistan another 3,900 troops to reinforce the 8,400 there now.

Trump doesn’t claim it will do the job of defeating the Taliban. In fact he lays out no long term strategy at all. It’s not difficult to imagine that in a decade the same stalemate will exist.

President Barack Obama, blind-sided by the generals, he confided later, pumped up the numbers to 100,000. Before very long, Obama came to realize that even if he did a Lyndon B. Johnson and sent in half a million troops it would end up as it did in Vietnam with stalemate.

He ordered the troop numbers down to their present total, the minimum to secure Kabul and provide training for the Afghan army. Unanswered was why, after 16 years and more than $120 billion dollars spent, the Afghan army wasn’t trained already. (One could ask the same question in Iraq.) Read the rest of this entry »

Please, Sounds Not Noise

By Jonathan Power

Everyone has their favourite sounds – a ball on a cricket bat on a summer’s afternoon, birds singing, waves breaking on the beach, the coffee pot perking on the stove, children playing scoobydoo.

Mine are the quiet sounds of the English Lake District – William Wordsworth’s:

“A flock of sheep that leisurely

pass by one after one;

the sound of rain and bees

murmuring; the fall of rivers,

wind and lakes, smooth fields;

white sheets of water, and pure sky.”

Noise is less and less sweet sounds. It is cars and trucks, airplanes and builders, canned music in cafes, a symphony playing an atonal concerto. Read the rest of this entry »

Nuclear sabre rattling with North Korea

By Jonathan Power

Does President Donald Trump (aka “Fire and Fury”) know what a nuclear war would be like?

I ask the question because President Roland Reagan confessed he did not until he decided to look at some movies (once an actor, he was a cinema man), like “On the Beach” that depicted a nuclear war. The exercise changed his thinking and he became an anti-nuclear weapons militant. Together with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev they cut their nuclear stockpiles sharply.

They also came near an agreement to destroy all their nuclear weapons.

The blasts at the end of the Second World War in Hiroshima and Nagasaki can now be repeated hundreds of thousand times. The remains would not just be the broken arches of the Caesars, the abandoned viaducts and moss-covered temples of the Incas, the desolation of one of the pulsating hearts of Europe, Dresden, but millions of square miles of uninhabitable desolation and a suffering which would incorporate more agony than the sum of past history.

It would be a time when the living would envy the dead and it would be a world which might well have destroyed the legacy of law, order and love that successive generations have handed over the centuries to one another. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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